I published my review of The Sewing Revival Fantail top recently and since then I’ve made a second using an alternative finish which I thought I would share with you.
This second version uses a ribbing finish on the neck, cuffs and back hem instead of hemming or elastication. I’d bought some Art Gallery viscose from Sew Me Something with an interesting graphic design and then my fellow @SewOver50er Kate @stitchmeayear generously offered me some grey ribbing, she had more than she needed. It turned out to be the perfect match and I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.
There are separate pattern pieces for the ribbing cuffs, neck and hem and, although the same front, back and sleeve pieces are used, there are very slightly different cutting lines for the sleeve.
I had bought 1.5m of the graphic print and it has a fairly distinct one-way design which meant I needed to place each pattern piece carefully to try and get a reasonable match whilst not wasting too much fabric. I was able to do this by folding over one selvedge by just enough to position the front and back pieces along the same fold. This left a good sized piece from which I could individually position and cut a pair of sleeves whilst still just about getting a good match.
Sewing the Fantail with ribbing is very slightly different to the woven version. First, the deep ribbing band is sewn on the back in place of the narrow hem [I’m not sure if there’s a small discrepancy in the pattern or my cutting out but on both my versions I’ve found there to be about 5mm too much fabric in the back compared to the front when joining the side seams]
Like the first version I sewed the ribbing band onto the neck after joining the raglan seams and before sewing up the side seams. As I probably explained in the previous post, I always find it’s easier to put a facing, binding or whatever neck finish on whilst everything can still be laid out flat unless there’s a technical construction reason for doing it later.
The main reason for writing this second post is because I want to show you the way I turned the band at the hem-I forgot to take photos as I was making the first one! It’s a really neat way of of finishing the bottoms of the side seams and can be a useful technique in other places when you’re sewing different hems or edges together because it gives a crisp and level finish to an edge with the seams enclosed. The photos will help make more sense.
One other slight change I made was to the width of the ribbing cuffs, I cut the UK 12 pieces but they were much too baggy for my wrists so I shortened them by 5cms so they aren’t so wide and gapey.
At the moment I haven’t edge stitched any of the ribbing like I would do normally on knit garments. Because this is a combination of woven and knit fabrics I don’t want the woven fabric, at the neck especially, to end up puckered where its attached to the band so I’ve left it for now [and I don’t want holes if I had to unpick it]
I don’t normally post two of the same thing in such quick succession but I wanted to share the hem tip more than anything. I fully anticipate making a knit version of the Fantail at some point, or a short sleeve one in something really light and pretty…That’s what I enjoy about Sewing Revival patterns, so many possibilities if you have the imagination.
The Festive season is often a reason to make, or buy, a special new outfit to wear for office parties or Christmas Day but this year’s Festive season things will be very different for most of us. I don’t want to be entirely negative though so, as part of the Lamazi blogger team, I thought I’d make something which is a little bit Christmassy but will double up as a ‘regular’ winter dress too.
I’ve chosen the cord velvetfrom Danish Design in a gorgeous shade of aubergine-I’m always a sucker for purple-but it comes in several other beautiful rich shades including a sumptuous gold and a stunning teal too. I picked this fabric because it’s a medium weight stretch jersey and has soft pile which makes it lovely to the touch. I’ve made a dress but you could easily make tops or wide-legged pants in it, or babies and children’s clothes too because it’s washable and crease resistant.
Whilst I love a complex make to really get my teeth into I felt this wasn’t a garment which warranted lots of time. Making a special Christmas once-worn garment wasn’t appropriate any longer so I wanted something quite simple but adaptable and for that reason I’ve picked the Somerset T-shirt by Maven Patterns. I’ve made a few of these now, the bones of it are beautifully simple, it has a self-neatened bateau neckline, a slightly fitted silhouette and four sleeve options. I’ve chosen the Bishop sleeve with a long cuff but I’ve hacked the sleeve to make it even fuller, and I’ll lengthen the body to create a dress finishing below the knee.
The Somerset has excellent very full instructions with lots of tips and advice to get a good finish. There’s a useful sheet to write all your information including body measurements and fit alterations, and a fabric stretch gauge to check you have enough stretch for the pattern to fit properly. You can also list the needle type and size you’ve used, stitch type and length and anything else you might want to remember for another time.
To increase the size of the sleeves I took the bishop sleeve pattern and drew 5 vertical lines from each of the notches from shoulder to hem. Each segment will become slightly wider as it gets nearer the bottom edge so make sure they are even in size.
Cut a piece of spot and cross or tracing paper bigger than the pattern as it is, mark a grainline running right down the paper and then lay the pattern piece on top of it, matching the grain on the pattern to the grain line you’ve just drawn. Next, I carefully cut up to the top of the marked lines taking care not to snip right through at the top, keep it attached by a tiny amount to act as a pivot point. [If you don’t want to cut your original pattern piece I suggest you trace off a new one to use instead] Then you splay the hem edge apart by a few centimetres each, I added 2.5cms between the each of the ‘side’ segments and 5cms to the central one. By doing this you’re adding fullness at the hem but not altering the sleeve head. You could put additional fullness to the sleeve head by opening the top edge too if you wanted. I lengthened the sleeve by 5cms too so that it would have plenty of blousy fullness into the cuff.
Trace around the new shape using a tracing wheel or pencil and cut out the new piece transferring all markings. One final change I made was to add a bias grainline because I knew I wanted to play with the stripe direction of the rib on the fabric.
I had pre-washed my fabric and partly tumble dried it on ‘low’ before letting it dry completely on the clothes airer, it seemed to survive the experience just fine.
I made an arbitrary choice of how long to make the dress by simply holding the tape measure at my shoulder and seeing where it came to at about mid-shin! I attached another piece of spot and cross to the bottom of the front and back pattern pieces and drew on the skirt length I wanted, plus a generous hem. I knew I would have to make some adjustments to the hip and thigh during the fitting stage, just make sure that the hip and thigh measurements are plenty big enough because you can always remove some, it’s much harder to add later!
The ‘cord’ runs across the width of the fabric and I wanted the rib to run down the length of my dress which meant I had to fold the fabric across the width. Try not to twist the fabric if you have to fold this way, I marked a single rib by following it across the width with pins so that I can see it clearly. Fabrics like corduroy, velvet or velour have a pile or ‘nap’ which will shade so if you cut some pieces facing one way on the grain and some pieces running the other way then you will end up with a garment that looks like it’s been made with two different colour fabrics, even though you know that isn’t the case. If you’re unsure what quantity of this type of fabric to buy go with the ‘with nap’ amount on the pattern information and follow the one-way layplan to cut out.
Once I’d cut all my pieces I followed the making instructions which are very comprehensive. If you have a walking foot for your machine I strongly recommend you use it because velour like this has a ‘pile’ and has a tendency to ‘creep’ as you sew so you might find that it starts off with all the edges matching but by the time you get to the other end the two fabrics are no longer matching. I also strongly recommend you tack any seams you are unsure about. You could use a million pins but by the time you’ve done all that you could have basted it in place which does the same job and usually more effectively. I was able to coverstitch the neck and the skirt hem on the Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 I have on loan as a brand ambassador but it works just as well by overlocking the raw edges and twin-needle stitching them down, or zigzag and twin-needle, or two rows sewn singly if you don’t have a twin needle. When it comes to pressing a fabric like this, if you don’t have a special needle board (and few of us do) then you should press on the reverse at all times. You could place a towel on your pressing surface and lay the fabric on top so that the pile of the cloth is against the pile of the towel which will help protect it. Use a pressing cloth as well. These tips will also apply to regular corduroy or any non-stretch fabrics with a pile too.
The bell of the sleeve is gathered using shirring elastic which helps to retain some of the stretch required for the cuff.
Once the sleeves were in I sewed up one side seam directly on the overlocker and then pinned the other side seam to fit myself. This was because I didn’t know if I’d need a split at the hem to be able to walk in the dress and I didn’t want to end up with loads of unpicking!
I looked at the fit in the mirror first of all and the sewn side seam was quite wavy, this could be cured by either adjusting the differential feed on the overlocker so that it doesn’t happen, or you could stitch the seam on the sewing machine and then overlock the edges [This is what I opted to do because I could see I had to take a fair bit off the side seams anyway to achieve a fit I was happy with] Then I put the dress on inside out in front of the mirror and pinned out the excess. I turned it right side out and tried it on again to check the fit, then finally sewed both side seams on the sewing machine, I used a ‘stretch’ needle, a ballpoint or jersey needle performs the same task. Either use a short straight stitch or a straightened out zigzag, make some samples to see which works best for your particular fabric.
Lastly, the cuffs go on and the skirt is hemmed.
And that’s pretty much it, it pops straight over the head so no tricky closures, because of the stretch it didn’t need a split, and that means there’s room for Christmas lunch and it won’t look like a dish rag after spending the afternoon curled up on the sofa watching Christmas telly!
I have to say that I’m really happy with this dress because it ticks all the boxes I wanted it to. It’s comfortable but it looks Christmassy, it looks great with opaque tights, heels and jewellery, but also with boots, a chunky belt, a roll neck top underneath for extra warmth or a cosy scarf…and did I mention it’s comfortable! #secretpyjamas It also has the advantage of rolling up and going in the corner of a bag or suitcase and coming back out again not needing a press. Bonus!!
At 160cms the fabric is very wide so a little will go a long way, and because it’s so soft it would be lovely for children’s wear too. It needs a little bit of careful handling but a lot of that is in the ground work. Make sure you lay it up and cut it accurately to minimise unnecessary stretching or distortion (try to keep it flat on the table or lay it up on the floor) pin or tack the seams so they don’t move about and press carefully as you go and you should be fine.
It’s been an incredibly tough year for so many and I wouldn’t blame you for not feeling like making anything new to wear. However, if crafting and creating bring you joy and respite then you could view it as a gift to yourself, and when you choose to buy from small companies like Lamazi and Maven then you are helping them too.
Thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric for me to write my review, and I hope you find it helpful.
So, here we are TWO YEARS on from the first SewOver50 post, on August 18th 2018, and the account now stands at nearly 21K members worldwide!
Personally, I’d really like to thank Judith and Sandy for the amazing amount of work they undertake so graciously in order to steer the Mothership through some interesting and turbulent territory, especially the second half of these last twelve months.
We were all trundling along in our own way when suddenly, in early 2020, the world went very weird indeed. As the impact of Covid-19 started to take effect many of us were locked-down at home, some still working but in a whole new way, reliant on technology to carry on, it was an extremely stressful time for many who could have no contact with their loved ones or friends, lots of sewing-related events we so enjoy were cancelled or postponed. Many of us found that our sewing and creative making was a safe haven amid what was going on around us. For example, did you make a pouffe? I had the luxury of being able to sew whenever I wanted, because I couldn’t go anywhere, and I noticed others embarking on this project so I took the opportunity to use up SO many scraps of fabric and stuff them all into a footstool, I made my own pattern but I know many of you used the ClosetCore free pouffe pattern. I know many others couldn’t sew as often but, from chatting with friends, the time that they were able eke out to sew was vitally important to them, helping them to de-stress and shift their focus for a while. Shopping for fabrics, patterns and haberdashery online became a way, almost the only way, of supporting some of our favourite businesses, as people found new ways to adapt and do business. Sales of sewing machines worldwide increased exponentially with many manufacturers and retailers struggling to keep up with demand. Some of us had sewing sessions with our friends via Zoom, which was occasionally technologically-challenging but it enabled us to be in touch with each other whilst participating in our shared interest. I’m not going to dwell here on the pandemic though because it’s been different for all of us, sewing and being in touch with my sewing friends around the world has been an absolute lifeline for me personally. In fact, rather than watching the all-too-overwhelming daily news stories, it’s enabled me to hear and appreciate what people I feel I’ve come to know have been going through. At one stage it seemed anyone who was able to was using their sewing skills to help with the desperate shortages by making scrubs here in the UK, and possibly elsewhere, and mask-making has become something that people with little previous sewing experience have found themselves being able to contribute. Face coverings have become compulsory in many places now so this will be an ongoing activity in future.
Moving on, as a group @SewOver50 has always strived very hard to be inclusive of anyone who wishes to follow along, after all, part of the reason it started in the first place was because we felt somewhat excluded from sections of the sewing community by virtue (?!) of our age. Following the murder of George Floyd in the US we were all called to question the part we play in our world, even within our sewing community we had to examine our consciences to ask if we were doing enough. #BlackLivesMatter was rapidly followed by #BlackMakersMatter and there is now an Instagram account @BlkMakersMatter where you can see, and follow and support, the massive diversity of BIPOC makers, and not just sewers but crafters and makers of many beautiful things. Many of our wonderful stalwart SewOver50 followers including Diary of a Sewing Fanatic are vocal advocates, I’ve always got time for Carolyn’s no nonsense plain speaking! We shall endeavour to continue reflecting our membership, and involve a diverse range of contributors and guest editors in the future. If you have ideas for future topics, especially if you think we’re missing something important, do please let us know.
So, very briefly, that’s the worldwide picture (as it currently stands) in which there have been quite a few SewOver50-related things going on during the past 12 months too. My personal favourite was our very first, and fortuitously timed, official meet-up in London in late February. Judith was able to join me to co-host and I was thrilled that so many generous companies large and small sponsored prizes for the charity raffle we held. I think, without exception, everyone who attended enjoyed themselves and agreed we would have liked even longer to chat and create new friendships in real life, just weeks later the event couldn’t even have happened. We had high hopes of more of you being able to host your own meet-ups where ever you are in the world but that’s still not really possible, make sure you let us know if you do manage it! Above all though, stay safe!
Stalwart supporter Maria Theoharous in Sydney started her own podcast Sew Organised Style in September 2019 and she generously created a space for Sew Over 50 every Thursday! Judith, Sandy and myself have all chatted with her but you can also listen to a growing list of our fellow followers every week chatting about what sewing, crafting and Sew Over 50 means to them. It’s really lovely to actually hear their voices, talking with enthusiasm about things they are passionate about.
At the beginning of May ClosetCore Patterns paid the ultimate accolade to one of my personally most inspirational sewers, Blanca, by naming a pattern after her, it’s a stylish flight/boiler/jump suit (call it what you will) but I love her personal aesthetic and she absolutely rocks this outfit!
In the UK during the spring, and at the height of lockdown, we had series 6 of the Great British Sewing Bee to enjoy. It featured several fellow dressmakers who we can claim to be representing ‘us’ on national TV. Yes, we know they are ticking boxes to cast certain ‘types’ but at least this time it’s positive discrimination! Even so, 10 weeks went by far too quickly!
Over the year the account covered all sorts of different topics for discussion including, do you always make a toile or just happy to wing it? What are you pet sewing peeves? (cutting out and pattern tracing seemed to be top for this one!) The art of tutu making was a personal favourite, having always loved ballet and especially the costumes. Tips for better and more accurate top stitching was another goody and @SewitwithDi gave us a master class in using the correct interfacings effectively. There are too many others to mention them all but you can refer back at any time, take a screen shot of your favourites or save them to your archive for future reference.
More recently the account reached, and has now surpassed, 20,000 followers! This was marked with a giveaway where two people who had not necessarily met in real life but had formed a friendship through sewing could each win a copy of the same pattern. If you take a look at the hashtag #so50sewalong you can see some of the garments that have been made since this competition ran a couple of months ago. Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that the #sewover50 hashtag has now been used almost 80K times up to this point, it’s an absolute wealth of inspiration and knowledge which is all yours for the taking!
I think many of us enjoyed the opportunity to look back through, and share, some of our holiday photos wearing our me-mades. Sadly many holiday and travel plans haven’t been able to happen this year so it was a lovely way for us all to virtually ‘travel the world’ over the course of a weekend. Lots of us wore those clothes anyway, even if we couldn’t leave home! The online virtual Frocktails in April was another excuse to dress up a bit, knowing our friends around the world were raising a glass to each other at (almost) the same time.
Have you been keeping a #so50bingo card? This has been an ongoing way of keeping tabs on what you have been sewing and other techniques/events you could challenge yourself to try. No pressure, it’s just a bit of fun with no time limit.
During the year I wrote several blog posts based around different topics including sewing advice for newbies (or returners for that matter) your go-to T-shirt patterns, what do you take into account with your fabric buying choices, are you a batch cutter/sewer or just one thing at a time? Judith and I both contributed videos as part of the online Sewing Weekender, this is normally an event held in Cambridge, UK but The Fold Line opened it up worldwide as an online event and it was a huge success with over 1,700 people ‘attending’ from all over the world.
We also held the second #so50visible challenge earlier in the year, we seem to be having success with getting our images reposted by lots of pattern companies which is a very good thing but notably few are choosing older models-with a few honourable exceptions-to represent their patterns in the marketplace. This is still very frustrating when you look at just how many stylish and inspirational people follow this account but if we all keep plugging away a change will come. One thing that pattern companies have said to us is that the quality of photos isn’t always good enough for them to reshare so the better, and clearer, you can make your photos to show off your makes the more likely it is to get reposted. There have been a number of posts with simple tips on how to improve your photos so why not check them out?
Most recently our own Leader Judith has written an article for bi-monthly US-magazine Sew News talking about Sew Over 50, which you can order online.
So, in spite of everything, lots of good things going on for Sew Over 50 in the last twelve months, some progress being made with representation but I’m sure you’ll agree that isn’t all the account is about. I hope you continue to find the account as inspiring as I do? Yes, we all start off by being here for the sewing but it often becomes so much more than that. Real friendships have been forged as a result, very few of us have ever met one another in real life but that doesn’t stop us identifying and empathising with each other and the lives we lead, especially during these last few extraordinary months.
I am deeply indebted to Judith and Sandy for the sheer dedication they have on our behalf, and I’d like to thank all of you for your kind words of encouragement, support and appreciation to me personally, I love being a part of this worldwide community of sewing and I can honestly say the last few months would have been very different without so many of you connecting and interacting with me in some way.
Much as I’m a big fan of sewing and wearing dresses, I do love separates too, especially tops. I think this version of the Amaya shirt by Made My Wardrobe may just have gone to the top of my favourites list! [Full disclosure, Lydia offered me my choice of one of her patterns as a PDF with no expectation of a review and I selected the Amaya with its gathered neckline, raglan sleeves and full floaty cuffs] I printed it off but then didn’t start it for a while until the ‘right’ fabric came along.
As a Lamazi Fabrics blogger we each volunteer for a number of slots throughout the year but Liana was short of a post for early August so I offered to do it. I thought the Amaya would be a good option as it’s not complex and I could probably sew it quite quickly to meet the deadline. When my eyes fell on the beautiful printed Broderie Anglaise I knew I had my perfect match!
When the fabric arrived it was absolutely gorgeous, so soft and pliable. Broderie Anglaise can often be quite stiff and crisp, which may be what you want, but I’ve also found it to be a disguise for a cheaper quality cotton fabric with lots of dressing or starch in it so do be slightly wary of very cheap Broderie Anglaise. This version is a printed soft cotton lawn which is then embroidered, there are lots of eyelets so personally I’ll probably be wearing a plain-coloured RTW camisole underneath as no one needs to see my undies or midriff thank you! This specific fabric does not have an embroidered edge which some Broderie Anglaise does, and also be aware that the embroidered part of the fabric doesn’t run right up to the selvedge, this is normal with this type of fabric. On this particular fabric there’s a wider gap down one side than the other so you may find the useable part of the fabric isn’t as wide as you would think. In other words, don’t scrimp on the quantity of fabric when choosing Broderie Anglaise for a project because you could find yourself a bit short by accident.
I opted for a UK size 14 with no modifications according to my measurements but I think I will go down a size when I make another, the fabric you choose could make a significant difference to the finished look so a soft and floaty georgette or silk crepe de chine for example would look divine with plenty of volume but a firm linen, or a cotton poplin could give you the appearance of a ship in full sail! (that may, of course, be the look you’re after!)
This fabric has a one-way design but I chose to turn the upper sleeve pattern piece to interlock better and make it more economical to cut out, I really don’t think it’s that obvious on the finished garment, always worth checking though!
It’s pretty well impossible to see snipped notches or even triangles on this fabric so, in order to tell the front of the sleeve from the back, I marked the single and double notches with long thread tacks and this seemed to work well.
I used a French seam finish on the cuffs but found there wasn’t any particular advantage to doing this, for the rest of the construction I sewed regular seams and overlocked them together.
The pattern calls for interfacing to be attached down the centre front seam to stabilise it but I chose not to do this as it would show through the eyelets, I simply neatened the edge of the self-facing with the overlocker. I had a rummage through lots of the miscellaneous trims and ribbons I’ve had from past projects and tried a few ideas out with them but in the end I only used a white cotton trim down the front and simple edging lace on the sleeves, I would have used this on the hem too but there wasn’t enough, more on that later.
I added a triple zigzag stitch to embellish the sleeve ruffle seam too.
The neckline is gathered up into a bias-cut band but instead of cutting it on the bias I used a straight strip of the printed lawn from near the selvedge. I did this because a bias strip of such holey fabric wouldn’t have worked well at all, the one drawback of the tie being cut on the straight is that it doesn’t curve around the neckline quite so smoothly but it’s fine. The tie is topstitched close to the edge so, to match the sleeve, I used the triple zigzag stitch again.
Finally I had to finish the hem, I could simply have turned up as per the instructions but I wanted some kind of pretty finish to echo the cuffs. As I didn’t have enough of the sleeve trimming, or any other edging lace which I felt worked alongside what I’d already used, I opted to try out one of the satin stitches which my Pfaff machine is capable of.
I’d never tried this before so I did a couple of experimental tests with a few stitch designs that appealed to me, I used Vilene Stitch N Tear as a backing behind it to stabilise the fabric.
This seemed to be satisfactory so I sewed the whole hem by this method a few millimetres away from the edge. The Stitch N Tear is then carefully torn away to leave the actual embroidery and then finally, as accurately as possible, I snipped away the excess fabric to leave the pretty scalloped edge.
I’m very happy with this finish on the hem BUT it’s just possible that it might not be very durable in the wash, I’m half-expecting that it might start to come away in places. If this happens then I’ll have come up with another idea but for the moment it looks nice.
I hope you’ve found my tips for working with Broderie Anglaise helpful, and things to look out for with it. It’s certainly a fabric that is having a ‘moment’ at the moment, it’s timeless and feminine and I’m looking forward to wearing my Amaya for a few years to come.
Thank you as always to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric to be able to write this, and thank you to Lydia at Made My Wardrobe for generously giving me the pattern.
Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…
I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.
Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…
At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?
So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.
Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…
So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds.
[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ]
Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.
In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!
For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print.
Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters.
But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.
So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes.
I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?
@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics.
Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.
At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.
Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes.
As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing.
I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.
I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs.
I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.
When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.
I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears.
The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.
The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well.
I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.
My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.
The Amelia tea dress isn’t one I’ve sewn before but Jane who comes to my sewing class had made one last summer and I remember liking the shirred elastic midriff section. The brief for our makes this time was ‘festive’ (we usually don’t have a brief, it’s free-choice) Bearing this in mind Bobbins n Buttons had offered to provide me with fabric so I had a browse on their website and selected the Lady McElroy ‘beauty and the bees’ stretch velvet.
The pattern isn’t intended for jersey but it is simple shapes and a bit of gathering which I knew would still work well, what you don’t want is a fabric that’s too thick or stiff though because the shirring won’t work properly. I planned to hack the pattern a bit so I decided to add long bishop sleeves as it’s winter, I also lengthened the skirt (more on that later) and of course I added pockets!
Because of the distinctive large print I opted to remove the centre back seam and put the zip into the side seam instead, this was to save me the hassle of trying to pattern match the print across the zip. Because I’d removed the CB seam in the bodice I took it out of the skirt too, for the same reasons. If you’ve got a tricky print to match over a seam like this consider whether you can move the zip to the side, it’s not much different to put in and the opening can be a little shorter but still give you sufficient room. Now I could have a line of bees central down the back (and front of course) and just needed to get a good horizontal match too for me to be really happy.
As I said before I wanted the skirt as long as possible but there needs to be a compromise between length versus flare because of the width of the fabric. If you want the skirt to be longer you’ll need to reduce the amount of flare at the hem because you’ll be restricted by the fabric width. The wider the fabric then the more scope you have. I measured how long I could make the skirt before it would need reducing at the hem and decided it would be an acceptable length. I could add around 10cms to the hemmaking sure the new side seams were at a right angle to each other so that the hem will run in a smooth line. I traced around a few bees where they crossed the cutting line so that I could ensure the front and back matched as well as possible.
In order to cut everything as efficiently as possible from the fabric I first cut the skirts against the main fold-don’t forget to exclude the CB seam or the piece will be bigger than your back bodice (if you’re excluding the zip)
Then I refolded the fabric with the selvedges into the centre to cut the bodice pieces on the folds. This is vital to get those bees running down the centre.
From the remaining fabric I cut a pair of long sleeves. I used the pattern from another design I’ve made a few times, I measured the armhole of the dress and compared it against the sleeve I have. It was a little smaller at the crown so I added a small amount to give it sufficient width. Finally, because it’s jersey, I chose to use a neck binding instead of the facings so I cut two narrow strips which were each the same length as the CF to CB measurement of the neck plus a couple of centimetres seam allowance.
Ok, so I mostly followed the instruction with a few minor changes because of my alterations. One thing I did first of all was to stabilise the back shoulder seams and the left side seams where the zip was going to go with iron-on interfacing because I don’t want them to stretch out of shape. I chose to leave the back darts in although I possibly could have eased them out as it’s a stretch fabric.
After joining the shoulder seams I added my neck binding. I folded the strips with RS out along the long edge-I didn’t join them to each other at this stage-then, starting at the V, I stitched just that section into place. This way you can sew just a small part, snip into the V and pivot at the corner more accurately. When I was happy with this I sewed the rest of the binding on leaving just the CB part unsewn, then I could join the two strips in the right place and finally attach it to the neckline. Finally I neatened the edge all the way around and then topstitched it down close to the seam to stop it rolling.
The next part is the shirring which really isn’t difficult so don’t panic. First wind shirring elastic onto an empty bobbin BY HAND stretching it very slightly as you go, put it into the machine in the usual way (you may wish to check the manual if you have an older machine in case there is anywhere else you need to thread the elastic through) Use your matching colour thread on the top in the usual way and lengthen the stitch slightly, it doesn’t need to be zigzag or anything though. Definitely try out a test piece first and don’t forget to secure the start of each new row so that the stitching doesn’t come undone. I don’t secure the other end at this stage though in case I find I need to pull the threads up any more later. You should be able to sew 8 rows of stitching parallel to each other to complete the strip. The fabric will naturallypucker up pretty well but when you’re done stitching hover the iron with plenty of steam over it and you’ll find it gathers up some more as a result. Finally knot the ends of the threads to secure.
Then you need to attach the gathered band onto the lower part of the bodice making sure it’s evenly divided as you go.
Attach the skirts (I’d sewn the pocket bags on to each side seam before doing this. I just use my handy cardboard template which I made ages ago, I just trace around it directly onto the fabric and cut out.)
Next the zip goes into the left side seam. I sew it here out of habit as I’m right-handed and find it easier to do up that way but put the zip in whichever side works for you. After neatening both side seams separately first I sewed up the top of the side seam by about 4cms from the armhole edge. I used an invisible zip and inserted it in the usual way, making sure the waist seams matched, and then joining the rest of the side seam once I was happy with the zip insertion. I sewed up the other side seam and I was ready to tackle the sleeves.
The sleeves are set-in so I made the elasticated cuffs on the flat first using straight strips of jersey the same length as the curved cuff edge. With the strip open and RS together I sewed it once.
Then I folded the strip in half and sewed it on the overlocker to create a channel.
This will turn downwards to form the cuff which I slotted wide elastic through, securing at both ends.
Finally, I sewed the underarm seams to create the sleeves which are inserted into the dress as per the instructions.
All that’s left to do is the hem which I sewed on the coverstitch machine which is on loan to me by Pfaff at the moment.
I’m really pleased with how the dress has turned out, it’s very swishy and has a slightly 1940’s vibe to it. I like the extra length on the skirt and the sleeves look fab. I was a little alarmed when I saw the large scale of the print but actually I really rather like the bees now. One thing I’m not keen on (and this is down to the manufacturer and not the supplier) is that they have printed a black background design onto a white base cloth. Because the cloth has a pile it means that anywhere there are joins there is a slight hint of the white showing through which is not ideal. The velour isn’t too tricky to work with as the pile is a bit flatter than velvet but it does still ‘creep’ a bit in places so if you’re in any doubt that pins aren’t enough to keep it all in alignment make sure you tack (baste) seams together. If you have a walking foot I would definitely advise using it.
I hope this will help you to feel inspired and perhaps have a go at ‘hacking’ a pattern for yourself. This was a very simple one but if you look at my Simplicity blouse hack you can see just how carried away it’s possible to get!